Confessions of a List-Maker

I am a list-maker.

Each morning, I write out my “To Do” list for the day. It may look something like this:

-Make dentist appointment
-Mail bills
-Grocery Shopping
-Drop dog off at the groomer
-Call Mom

Well, you get the idea. I’ve been a list maker for as long as I can remember. Almost anything can be turned into a list. In school I listed my homework assignments. I’ve made pros and cons lists, baby name lists, Christmas card lists, and I wouldn’t dream of shopping without a well thought out grocery list.

While it may be helpful in accomplishing short-term goals for the day; I can think of at least two negatives to list-making.

One, it’s not a good idea to be tied too closely to a list. Sometimes things come up and if I’m too intent on accomplishing my list, I end up frustrated. Or worse, I may miss a blessing, or being a blessing to others, because I am too fixated on my own agenda. Blessed are the flexible!

Second, I have found that my desire to grow in faith and obedience to the Lord is actually thwarted by my propensity to reduce everything to a list. In the past, I have actually made lists such as this:

-Spend 30 minutes reading the Bible
-Spend 30 minutes praying
-Tell at least one person about Jesus today
-Count to ten to keep from responding in anger
-Don’t yell at the kids
-Respect my husband
-No complaining

Well, maybe not on paper exactly, but these were the kinds of things that I kept running as a sort of mental obedience list in my head. The problem is, obedience lists don’t really work, especially when it comes to a real and lasting change of heart.

If I were able to accomplish this kind of list on any given day, I would feel as if God was pleased with me. At this point, feelings of superiority and pride would often rise up causing me to sin even as I thought I was doing so well. If I were to fail, which is so often the case, I beat myself up, sure that God was angry with me. Fear of divine punishment would often be the result.

Keeping the obedience list is not only frustrating, but exhausting. Not to mention downright impossible if I’m banking on my own merit and strength.

The beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus kept the obedience list perfectly on my behalf.

For our sake he made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:21)

The truth of the Gospel is that Jesus’s death on the cross satisfied God’s judgment against me, and He bore the wrath that I deserved for my sins.

[I am] justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…  (Romans 3:24-25)

The miracle of the gospel is that I am free from the burden of earning and maintaining my salvation; it is a gracious gift from my Heavenly Father.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The reality of the Gospel is that Jesus is my righteousness; my mood and bravado are no longer dependent on my own merit, but on the excellency and sufficiency of Christ.

…Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.  (1 Corinthians 1:31)

The interesting thing is that when my heart and mind are set on the goodness of God as revealed in the Gospel, and when I’m walking in gratitude with the realization of all that Jesus has done for me; I find that the natural outcome is a joyful desire to obey the One who loved me unto death, the One who calls me daughter and friend, the One who freed me from the power of sin and death.

And when I do sin, the necessity of the Gospel is real.

…But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  (1 John 2:1)

The good news of the Gospel is that because of Jesus, I am neither a slave to sin nor am I reduced to hopelessly counting on my own effort to keep the obedience list.

So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed! (John 8:36)

What about you? Are you trusting in self-righteousness, your own ability to check off the items on your obedience list? Or have you trusted that your sin debt has been paid in full? Listen to Jesus’ final words from the cross: 

…”It is finished…” (John 19:30)

By His Grace and for the Gospel,
Terrie van Baarsel

About Terrie van Baarsel


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